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“I already have a contract because of my military holdout status.”

The Kiwoom Heroes announced the results of the 2024 season’s roster signings on April 22. The team signed 44 players, including Won Jong-hyun (4 years, 2.5 billion won), Lee Hyung-jong (4 years, 2 billion won), Lee Won-seok (1+1 years, 1 billion won), Choi Joo-hwan (4 years, 4.2 billion won), who was added through the second draft but is under contract as a free agent, and military holdovers.

There are only 6 billionaires. Kim Hye-sung, with 650 million won, is the number one. He is followed by Lee Yong-kyu with 200 million won, Kim Jae-woong with 190 million won, Song Sung-moon with 130 million won, Kim Tae-jin with 110 million won, and Kim Hui-jip with 100 million won. All 10 clubs have yet to finalize their salary negotiations, but it’s likely that non-FA players will have the lowest number of billion-dollar salaries among the 10 clubs.

While the team did sign veterans as free agents a year ago, the team’s philosophy is still to develop and utilize younger players rather than veterans. As a result, the team has a cost-effective structure that maximizes performance while managing the payroll efficiently.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t invest. Kim Hye-sung’s eighth year at the top, and the next big infielder, Kim Hwi-jip, has become a billionaire. And there’s another billionaire in hiding. This is Cho Sang-woo, who returned from social service last December.

He is still on military reserve. His annual salary is 340 million won. His contract is for the 2022 season. When the season starts, he will be registered as an official player and will naturally continue his 340 million won contract. Therefore, Kiwoom’s No. 2 non-free agent salary is not Lee Yong-kyu, but Cho Sang-woo.

If he finishes this season on track, he will be eligible to enter the major leagues as a post player, having completed eight years of full-time service. There have been speculations that he is considering a move to the major leagues. After a two-year hiatus, he is reportedly eager to show something this season. Both responsibility and motivation are evident.

The starting lineup without ace Ahn Woo-jin is the biggest concern for Kiwoom this season. However, the eighth and ninth innings, which will be guarded by Cho Sang-woo and Kim Jae-woong, could be Kiwoom’s biggest strength. If even those two bullpen stalwarts go down, the mound could become quite difficult to manage.

Kiwoom is a team of young players, but they realized in the 2023 season that if the veterans sag too much, the team will lose momentum. It’s too much to ask non-mega-earners to be the pillars of this team. In a way, it’s very important that the few big earners and veterans do their part. The role of Jo Sang-woo, who is hidden, is important.

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